The Closer

This is the second half of the previous post (The Setup), which focused on the importance of mentalities. It’s not necessary to read that post before reading this one, but in order to overcome our harmful habits it is necessary to fully understand the power of our mentalities. At the same time, no matter how expert we are on the power of our mentalities, it means absolutely nothing if we don’t address our habits. One without the other is like flesh without bone – or vice versa.

Mentalities are the soil from which our decisions arise; every choice we make, good or bad, begins there. Habits, in turn, are what we do to keep that soil healthy and productive – or weak and destructive. Just because someone strongly believes in oral hygiene doesn’t mean they’ll embrace the types of habits (flossing at the same time everyday, not eating in bed at night, etc.) required to fulfill the potential of that belief: clean , healthy teeth and gums.

If this need for structure seems obvious, why do we constantly neglect it? Particularly when it comes to cancerous mental habits, such as negative thinking, playing the victim and even gossiping. Why do so many of us not engage in the relatively small habits that give us the best chance to fulfill the potential of correct mentalities? It’s the will power scam.

Arguably the biggest misconception in regards to achieving a goal is that success depends on will power. For some people and against some desires will power is mighty and temptation is therefore manageable, like Shaq vs. a wolf. For most of us though, will power is average and temptation is enslaving. Of course, with better mentalities and habits we can strengthen our will power, but never enough to trust it on its own. The best defense always is to reduce the need for will power as much as possible by limiting our exposure to activities that provoke and, more importantly, fuel the types of temptation we’re least capable of resisting – which will be different for each of us.

A good example of will power’s weakness and how we commonly set it up for failure is when we keep hanging out with people and at places that bring out the worst features of our human nature. The best example of will power’s weakness however, is the gullible way we routinely react to what we think and feel.

As human beings we will forever experience deceitful thoughts and emotions. But instead of mindlessly buying into them, we can step by step train ourselves to slow down and respond with self-control. For example, by practicing resisting the urge to react in any way (curse, tense our faces, etc.) to the dozens of petty frustrations throughout the day (dropped something, slow people in front of us in line – the list is endless). Or, by practicing playing devil’s advocate with, instead of entertaining, our often reactionary negative thoughts (“Maybe this is just a misunderstanding”, “Wait – let me not jump to conclusions here, “I’ll be fine; nothing’s ever been as bad as it seemed” – again the list is endless). Research has found a dominant yet largely overlooked connection between our most basic habits and the quality of our lives. When we pay attention to the root causes of our actions we discover the same thing.

Consider the following from You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought by Peter McWilliams:

A lot of negative thinking, depression, frustration, and illness stems from people thinking they want something they don’t really want. How do you know what you really want? Whatever you are actively involved in getting, that’s what you really want. If you think you want something and you’re not actively involved in getting it, you’re probably just kidding yourself… What you want – what you really want – is what you are making real through action. If you think you want something but you’re not doing much to get it, you have three choices:

1. You can go on the way you’ve been: Kidding yourself and pretending you really want this thing that you don’t really want – or aren’t willing to do the necessary work to get. This causes frustration (“Why can’t I have what I want?”), hurt (“I never get what I want”), resentment (“Other people get what they want, why not me?”), and unworthiness (“I guess I don’t really deserve it”).

2. Give up the goal. Realize it’s a nice idea, and if it were in the next room, you’d probably go get it. It is, however, not something you really want more than other things you are actively seeking (including through lack of effort).

3. Do whatever is necessary to reach the goal. Eliminate from your schedule activities that support goals with lower priorities than the one in question. As you move toward your goal, certain mental, emotional and physical objections will be raised. No matter what complaints your mind, emotions, and body fling at you, if you know you need to do it, do it anyway. Gently, lovingly – but firmly – teach the objecting parts of you (through better habits and mentalities) that you have a new goal, a new priority, and that your actions will be in alignment with achieving that goal.

Most people choose No. 1 by not choosing and they go on seeing things the same harmful ways and experiencing the same unnecessary suffering and failures.

One of the many great points in this excerpt is “Gently, lovingly – but firmly – teach the objecting parts of you that you have a new goal, a new priority.” So many of us have given up on being anything better than what we tell ourselves we are or, more importantly, what we let others words and actions tell us we are. Again, we simply don’t understand the weakness of will power and the largeness of small steps and minor habits.

Over the course of my bit, especially the past 20 months developing, implementing and for the most part running a mental health program with my co-worker, I’ve often encountered contradictions between my habits and goals. Making them match up instead means remaining mindful of the billions throughout history much worse of than me in order to combat the dishonesty and wickedness of me complaining. It means keeping conscious of the fact that I could be, and sometimes am, the very people my ego tempts me to hate and judge. It means staying active in positive endeavors and away from negative people. But when negative people and unfortunate circumstances can’t be avoided, it means embracing them as opportunities for self-improvement: mental toughness, problem management, etc. It even means monitoring seemingly trivial habits, like my tone of voice and facial expressions, especially during disagreements, so as to strengthen my emotional restraint. Most of all, it means pursuing these and other goals in small steps, as small as I need to keep myself progressing and motivated.

If we live in a gated community we’re probably good just closing the door. But if we live in the slums, we need to invest in some good locks, a security system, bars on the windows, and a pit bull or two. Likewise, because many of us struggle with personal obstacles – mental health issues, learning disabilities, poor impulse control, anxiety disorders, lower intelligence, etc. – we have to do and avoid more than others to succeed at our goals, whatever they are. Maybe we just want to feel better about ourselves or work a simple 9-5 and chill on the weekends. That’s perfectly fine. Goals don’t need to be grand, front page news endeavors. They only need to matter to us enough that we’re sincerely motivated to make them “real through action.”

I’m not at all implying that our personal obstacles and even external factors, such as poverty and discrimination, are not real problems. They undeniably are. However, it truly never ceases to amaze me how much the quality of our lives – peace of mind, self-control – is determined by our mentalities and habits. I see this constantly everyday in the way guys choose to do – or kill – their time. Those who frequently complain and lose their composure have a much less mature view of life and people and they more often engage in behavior that corrupts their souls. Whereas, those who fit the opposite description tend to heed the experiences and advice of those they admire, who’ve achieved the same goals they hope to achieve. They take small steps. The don’t depend on will power.

Keep boxing temptation. Give life a hug for me.

TIP: Your local Chamber of Commerce offers a wealth of employment info and may be the best source for finding out which employers are felon-friendly. And individuals hard-pressed for a job should check out local auto detail shops, which are generally very willing to train.